How has the reality of the footwear manufacturing industry and your member companies changed following the outbreak of the pandemic?
The pandemic was a serious blow for many sectors around the world, but it also offered new challenges and the opportunity to adapt to an already changing world. From one end, we have digital transformation that is quickly accelerating, while from the other end there are the challenges connected to sustainability and the consequences of logistical sourcing problems in Asia that coincides with the possible transfer of production in Europe. Today we are facing a situation of uncertainty and change, which is certainly not new to this sector and which has forced us to reinvent ourselves on multiple occasions over the last few decades. For this reason, we are not pessimistic. We know that our entrepreneurs are adapting to new realities and the new needs of the global market and that most of our companies will come out of this experience stronger than ever, but we need to proceed step-by-step and do things properly. For companies that work with jute, which are in the majority in our Region, interesting opportunities connected to tradition and a sustainable DNA that has always characterised it are opening up, as is true with craft workmanship. One example of this is the footwear from the Murcia region, which managed to enter an interesting niche market in the field of "Shoes From Spain" brands, thanks to the high level of craftsmanship and the specialisation in the production of jute footwear, which exalts a know-how that has been transforming vegetable fibres into the very best espadrilles shoes for over five centuries.
What do you believe will be the winning factors in the Post-Pandemic Era?
Hand sewing, a use of natural fibres handed down from one generation to the next, and a mix of innovation, design, and technology are the winning cards we are betting on in facing the current market context, with investments and actions aimed at obtaining Protected Geographical Indication. That’s not all: during this time when local production becomes more ‘enticing’ for the consumer, we believe that MADE IN SPAIN and MADE IN EU can be a winning choice for the near future, thanks to its reduced negative impact on the environment, social responsibility, quicker response time in satisfying market demands, and greater pricing competitiveness created by the critical situation of maritime transport. The challenge today is to succeed in finding a ‘complicity’ and increased engagement with a consumer who seems to be increasingly informed and attentive to the HOW, WHO, and WHERE of the products they purchase.
How have you changed the supporting activities you offer member companies in facing these new scenarios?
We have companies of extremely different dimensions, but most of them are family-run and proceed at ‘different speeds’ when facing on-going changes. Our aim in CALZIA is to offer each of them the support needed to help them gain an advantageous and competitive position that coincides with their goals. I am referring, for example, to the brands that want to develop their international strategy and to whom we try to offer support in their promotion, or companies specialised in quality white labels, which need help in renewing their equipment and technologies, or even companies that need professional training and updating for their workforce. Our sector represents a great ‘generator of employment opportunities’ and in these months of pandemic, we had to focus our activities on supporting actions aimed at helping maintain the business of the companies in question, doing our best to raise awareness among regional and national administrations with the aim of getting the footwear manufacturing industry included in the recovery plans. Plans, which, even if they are insufficient, have allowed most companies to continue to be dynamic and active realities today.
In which trade fairs are you planning to participate and how will you participate?
We hope that the month of September will be an important turning point, signalling the recovery of physical trade fairs, with MICAM in particular offering a ‘before’ and ‘after’ pandemic perspective. On this occasion, the Murcia region will present 8 brands, with 5 of them belonging to the “Caravaca Jute” (Casteller, Kanna, Maypol, Picón and Pinaz). Additionally, we will integrate the presentation of brand collections with joint promotional activities before the trade press, influencers, and buyers, with the support of the Murcia regional government. Micam will be the occasion for promoting our YOUTE FESTIVAL (www.youte.es), which saw an extremely important meeting between brands and buyers in the month of July at Caravaca de la Cruz along with a virtual fair that will remain open until the end of September. As far as the strategy for the near future is concerned, we intend to reinforce the promotion of our companies in France and gradually recover territory in markets like the United States, Japan, and Australia.
Sustainability is one of the themes that will guide the near future: how are you moving with regards to it?
Sustainability has already been present for some time now in our companies. In fact, at the YOUTE FESTIVAL, we presented socially and environmentally sustainable projects, which puts us on the front line in terms of developing a circular economy model, recycling, using new materials, and being socially responsible. For example, LIFE KANNAgreen is a pioneer in developing a European network for the collection of used shoes for recycling and reuse in new shoes with an extremely low carbon footprint. We are also collaborating in developing new materials for soles obtained by processing local agricultural by-products like almond nutshells or rice, capable of reducing to a minimum the environmental impact. At the same time, we have not forgotten about social sustainability and the traceability of production through block chain technology. In addition to these projects, some of which have been realised thanks to European financing, we are participating together with FICE (the Federation of Spanish Footwear Industries) in a big and important national project for the sustainability of the fashion and textile industry in Spain.